There’s a war going on in this city. A very wet war. For the last month, undercover Londoners have been shooting water pistols at each other as part of a life-consuming competition. Alexi Duggins was among them. The man who puts the ‘ass’ into ‘assassin’ explains. Photography Rob Greig.
Do not be fooled. I may look like Alexi Duggins, that goofball who works for Time Out. However, I am in fact a fearless assassin. My name is (bom bom bom!) Death By Misadventure, I’m waiting outside Southwark Cathedral to ambush another hitman. His name is Napalm Stench. He knows I’m here, he knows my face, but he’s clueless about the fact that I am his killer. Or rather that I plan to assault him with a syringe of water that I’ve stuffed down the back of my undies. Poor fool. He has no clue that liquid death lurks between my bum cheeks.
You will no doubt have one question: what kind of life event has made me think it’s acceptable to use a phrase like ‘liquid death lurks between my bum cheeks’? Simple: Street Wars. It’s a three-week long assassination game where participants try to kill (or ‘wet’) each other with water pistols. It started in New York in 2004 and has been travelling the world ever since. For the last month it has been a way of life for more than a hundred Londoners. You sign up either as a solo assassin or, as I did, part of a team. You’re given the name, home address, work address and a photo of someone you have to spray. At the same time, you’re told that an anonymous assailant is coming for you. No one can be shot at their workplace or within a one block radius of it. Similarly, pubs, public transport and moving vehicles are out of bounds. There are, therefore, plenty of safe zones, meaning you can go about your life as usual.
Or maybe not. ‘My lovely sunny morning was punctuated by a man with a Supersoaker pounding the pavement towards me in what looked like a full hijab,’ is just one of many worrying comments from other players left on the Street Wars website. ‘Bribed the doorman of his flats to break into his building, chased him down the stairs but he got away!’ reads another.
‘This game will make you totally paranoid,’ says Street Wars’ creator (known simply as ‘Supreme Commander’) when I call him up in a fit of nerves. ‘In 2010, when we last played the game in London, the guy who won ended up climbing out of his flat every morning via a rope ladder hanging from a rear window. Then he’d hop into a boat and row away along the canal.’ I know the feeling. By day four I’m so scared of getting wetted on my way to work that I start employing similarly absurd tactics. I try to throw off potential stalkers by leaving my flat dressed as a woman, changing my clothes in some public toilets in east London and Boris-biking across the city to the Time Out offices.
‘This is becoming ridiculous,’ says my girlfriend as I rise at 4am the next day for a stakeout. She has no idea. An hour later and I’m crouched beside the bonnet of a car, peering at my mark’s front door. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ comes a stern voice. ‘May I ask what you’re doing down there?’ I stare up into the eyes of a copper. Behind him, I can see my teammate (assassin name: The Blonde Bombshell) fleeing like a pooch at bathtime. ‘We’ve had a number of reports of someone acting suspiciously, you see.’ I try to explain, and thankfully the policeman finds it funny, though he advises me act less suspiciously. So I lie down with my syringe full of water by my side and peer under the car. Nothing suspicious about that.
‘Are you okay down there?’ is my next interruption, 30 minutes later. This time I look up to see two ambulance workers. ‘Only we’ve had reports of someone passed out in the street.’ I explain that I’m fine: just waiting for someone. ‘I see,’ comes the response. ‘And the syringe?’
Over the next couple of days the Street Wars website buzzes with astonishing tales of inventive hits. The dead decry their stupidity for opening the door to Royal Mail workers whose deliveries turn out to be a face full of H2O. Worrying tales of lengthy stakeouts from the safety of cars pepper the messageboards, causing The Blonde Bombshell and I to rue our shared lack of a driving licence. And then it hits us: we don’t need a car, we have our own special skills to draw on.
‘Hey, I’m writing an article about Street Wars for @timeoutlondon,’ runs my tweet to Napalm Stench. ‘Follow me so I can message you some details.’ A few paranoid email and phone conversations later and Stench has bought my ruse. We agree to meet and boy am I excited. It’s been a fun few days thus far, but if you’re going to put up with all-consuming paranoia, you at least want some murders to show for it. I take up position outside Southwark Cathedral. Following his instructions, I call him. I can feel the liquid death lurking between my bum cheeks, and I feel pretty damned good about it.
‘I can see you,’ mumbles the voice that answers. ‘Let me just check you haven’t been followed.’
‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘I’ve got nothing to hide. Take as long as you want.’
‘Okay, I’ll just wait a few minutes…’
‘ALEXI!’ roars someone just behind me. I turn round. A stream of water hits me in the face.
‘What the… how did you…?’ I splutter at a man who is clearly not Napalm Stench.
‘I saw your tweet. You were my target, so I contacted Napalm Stench telling him that you were an assassin, and we teamed up to doublecross you,’ he says, as a sports car pulls up alongside us and Napalm Stench waves from the window before zooming away. ‘One question, though: where’s your pistol?’
‘I’ve got a syringe of water down the back of my undies,’ I reply, as the realisation dawns on me that I am now dead. ‘You see, liquid death lurks between my bum chee… Oh, never mind.’
Registration is now open for the next Streetwars on April 6, 2015 at streetwars.net.